OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Sen. Jim Inhofe vowed to help gain enough votes to override President Bush's threatened veto of a $20 billion water projects bill that contains money to buy property from residents of the polluted Tar Creek Superfund area.
The head of the White House budget office and the Army official who oversees the Corps of Engineers sent a letter to Sen. Jim Inhofe on Wednesday, saying the bill's cost greatly exceeded what Bush requested and what the House and Senate previously had approved.
Inhofe, R-Okla., co-authored the measure and secured water and sewer projects for several Oklahoma towns. He also included $30 million for the Tar Creek buyout and relocation process, according to a story from The Oklahoman's Washington bureau.
The Water Resources Development Act was expected to come up for a final vote this week, before Congress leaves for its August recess.
Both houses passed their own versions of the bill earlier this year, but the cost increased when it went to a House-Senate conference committee for a final version to be written, according to the White House letter.
“Indeed, it seems a $14 billion Senate bill went into a conference with the House's $15 billion bill and somehow a bill emerged costing approximately $20 billion,” the letter states. “This is not how most Americans would expect their representatives in Washington to reach agreement, especially when it is their tax dollars that are being spent.”
The letter written by White House budget director Rob Portman and John Paul Woodley Jr., assistant secretary of the Army, states that Bush would veto the bill in its current form.
Besides the cost, Portman and Woodley made an apparent direct reference to the Tar Creek project, listing “abandoned mine reclamation” among projects in the bill that were inappropriate for the mission of the Corps of Engineers.
According to Inhofe's office, the Tar Creek money “provides the authority the Environmental Protection Agency requires to re-evaluate remediation plans at Tar Creek to conduct both remediation and resident assistance.”
The 40 square-mile area in Oklahoma's northeastern tip was polluted by years lead and zinc mining.
A provision by Inhofe that encourages “recreational development” on Army Corps of Engineers lakes in Oklahoma through public-private partnerships also was questioned. It also includes a provision to allow development on Lake Texoma land ceded to Oklahoma.
“This bill, while not perfect, has received overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress and goes a long way towards addressing our nation's water resource needs,” Inhofe said.
“The fact is that WRDA, a bill that should be enacted every two years, is now five years overdue, accounting for much of the size of the bill.”
All five Oklahomans in the House voted their support of the WRDA bill.
Congressman Dan Boren, D-Okla., said “I would hope the President would reconsider his veto threat of this important legislation. The provisions in the Water Resources Development Act not only fund the significant work left to be done in the Tar Creek area, but also many critical waterway infrastructure improvement projects across the state of Oklahoma.”